Question: Why did Joseph Smith attempt to leave through the window of Carthage Jail?

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Question: Why did Joseph Smith attempt to leave through the window of Carthage Jail?

The idea that Joseph tried to escape through the window to save the lives of Richards and Taylor is in harmony with one of the reasons he went to Carthage to begin with

Non-Mormon Colonel John Hay, an American poet and statesman, recorded the day's details leading up to the murder, shedding light on the mood of the mob that infamous day. He wrote:

[The mobsters] followed their leaders off on the road to Carthage, with rather vague intentions. They were annoyed at the prospect of their picnic coming so readily to a close, at losing the fun of sacking Nauvoo, at having to go home without material for a single romance... These trudged along under the fierce summer sun of the prairies towards the town where the cause of all the trouble and confusion of the last few years awaited them.

The farther they walked the more the idea impressed itself upon them that now was the time to finish the matter totally. The unavowed design of the leaders communicated itself magnetically to the men, until the entire company became fused into one mass of bloodthirsty energy...

...As the avengers came in sight of the mean-looking building that held their prey, the sleeping tiger that lurks in every human heart sprang up in theirs, and they quickened their pace to a run. There was no need of orders,-no possibility of checking them now. The guards were hustled away from the door, good-naturedly resisting until they were carefully disarmed.162

Interjecting into Hay's narrative, the view from inside the jail finds the mob rushing up the stairs to the room where Joseph and his friends were. It was "at this point, Joseph sprang to his coat for his six-shooter, Hyrum for his single barrel, Taylor for Markham's large hickory cane, and Dr. Richards for Taylor's cane. All sprang against the door, the balls whistled up the stairway, and in an instant one came through the door...Joseph Smith, John Taylor and Dr. Richards sprang to the left of the door, and tried to knock aside the guns of the ruffians...Joseph, seeing there was no safety in the room, and no doubt thinking that it would save the lives of his brethren in the room if he could get out, turned calmly from the door, dropped his pistol on the floor and sprang into the window when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward into the hands of his murderers, exclaiming. 'O Lord, my God!'"[1]

The idea that Joseph tried to escape through the window to save the lives of Richards and Taylor is in harmony with one of the reasons he went to Carthage to begin with.[2]

The historical account reads that "Dr. Richards' escape was miraculous; he being a very large man, and in the midst of a shower of balls, yet he stood unscathed, with the exception of a ball which grazed the tip end of the lower part of his left ear. His escape fulfilled literally a prophecy which Joseph made over a year previously, that the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment."[3]

Mr. Hay continuing with his narrative writes:

Joe Smith died bravely...after he half leaped, half fell, into the jail yard below. With his last dying energies he gathered himself up, and leaned in a sitting posture against the rude stone well-curb. His stricken condition, his vague wandering glances, excited no pity in the mob thirsting for his life.

A squad of Missourians who were standing by the fence leveled their pieces at him, and, before they could see him again for the smoke they made, Joe Smith was dead.

The moment the work was done, the calmness of horror succeeded the fever of fanatical rage. The assassins hurried away from the jail, and took the road to Warsaw in silence and haste. They went home at a killing pace over the wide, dusty prairie.


Notes

  1. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:617-618. Volume 6 link
  2. Danel Bachman, “Joseph Smith: A True Martyr,” 325-326, from a speech given at the Joseph Smith Symposium, 22 February 1992, in Susan Easton Black & Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Joseph Smith: The Prophet (BYU Religious Studies Center 1993), 315-32. Bachman concurs that Joseph's attempted escape from the window was to save the lives of his friends in the room.
  3. History of the Church, 6:619. Volume 6 link